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Standing majestic between the formal buildings of the LACMA and the La Brea Tar Pits is the last structure by an architect Bruce Goff, who died during its construction. The Pavilion for Japanese Art combines futuristic ideals with the modern ones and accents mimicking ancient Japanese concepts to create an expressionistic haven for the art exhibited at this complex.
The permanent collection situated on the second level of the Pavilion for Japanese Art consists of articles that describe Japanese culture from as far back as 3000BC to the recent times of this century. Items on display in the West Wing gallery include Buddhist and Shinto sculptures, archeological material, textiles, armor, ceramics, lacquer wares, and cloisonné. The East Wing houses paintings, particularly those of the Edo (mid-19th century Tokyo) period, while the Raymond and Bushnell gallery of netsuke (miniature sculptures) sits at the Plaza level. Buddhist art is a fascinating subject of discussions, since Buddhism contains many different Buddhas that inspired artists with an intriguing variety of imagery to create. The paper will, however, focus on two deities magnificently captured in sculpture, the Amida Buddha and the Jizō Bosatsu.
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The Amida Buddha sculpture, whose artist is unknown, is made entirely of bronze and dates back to the Japanese Kamakura period of 1185-1334. It stands upright at nineteen and a quarter inches with traces of gilding that serves as protection, reaffirming its age to the viewer of this fine piece of religious art. A glass box enclosure surrounds the Amida Buddha.
Amida Buddha, or Amida Nyorai in Japanese, is the Buddha of infinite light and life. Nyorai means ‘one who is enlightened’. Amida predominantly concerned himself with afterlife. Amida Nyorai presides over the Western Paradise, the Pure Land of Bliss. Devotees believe that, upon their deaths, Amida descends to lead his faithful to paradise.
Amida’s paradise consists of nine realms. Buddhists believe that those devoting to the Amida faith are reborn n one of the nine realms. Hand gestures, or mudra, represent these realms in paintings and sculpture. These nine realms consist of three major classes: the upper grade (Jōshō), middle grade (Chūshō), and the lower grade (Geshō). In this sculpture, Amida Buddha is depicted doing the hand signs for the Gabon Jōshō, the upper, lower birth of the upper grade.
Amida stands graciously on display with elegance that can only be inherent in gods. He has a youthful round face with his eyes almost shut as though he is in a dreamy spell. A closer look at his face invokes a feeling of tranquillity, and he seems almost to give away a smile. This smile invokes reassurance on the viewer. Amida is draped in loose drapery, perhaps further instilling a sense of comfort.
Amida Buddha has both his hands making a circle with his thumb and first index finger. This symbolism represents the sermon aspect. His right hand is raised symbolically dispersing fear while is lowered in a sign as if to fulfil wishes.
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The sculpture of Jizō Bosatsu was created by an anonymous artist in the Heian period, approximately in 1070-1120. As the artwork is well preserved over a very long period, some signs of aging are evident on this wooden sculpture. One of the ways to preserve it is enclosing it in a glass box.
Jizō Bosatsu is regarded in Japanese Buddhist culture as a protector of children, pregnant women, pilgrims, and firemen. Jizō Bosatsu is beloved as he helps humans on their paths to enlightenment. Jizō is also considered a savior in the six karmic realms of rebirth, which are: that of beings in hell, that of hungry spirits, that of animals, Asura, that of humans, and Deva. In this sculpture, Jizō Bosatsu is depicted standing upright on a lotus flower with his left hand clasped open to reveal a jewel.
Jizō Bosatsu stands fearlessly in a meditative state with his eyes shut. A close inspection of his face reveals his nature as controllable, and it is possible to feel a sense of being under his guidance and protection. His left arm reveals a jewel that he emplooys in granting of wishes to devotees. Jizō exemplifies kindness and helps those in need. Besides, he protects aborted and miscarried babies and lessens suffering of those in hell.
Jizō Bosatsu is seen standing on a lotus flower. Lotus flowers are symbolically used in Buddhism to denote faithfulness, spiritual awakening, and purity. Buddhists consider the lotus flower pure, and thus Jizō is considered pure. This sculpture is a depiction of Jizō Bosatsu as having spiritual perfection and purity.
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The Japanese Buddhist art collection at LACMA contains various articles that explore peculiarities of the Japanese Buddhist culture. Items on display range from sculptures of deities and paintings to costumes and furnishings. The exhibition also contains prints, armor, textile, and photographs. Articles on display are interesting and, when viewing the collection, one finds it not only educative but also entertaining. The items on display at the Pavilion also have different time origins giving one insight into Japanese Buddhism at different times of history.
This art of collection is well lit. Walking through the exhibitions, one notices how the whole attention shifts to the artworks on display. As one stands to view a particular piece, his/her attention is not distracted by the other items. Most sections of the collection are well placed with enough space between the items. This arrangement also allows one to go through the whole collection effortlessly while enjoying the cool and fun atmosphere created by the ambiance and articles on display. The staff is not only hospitable but also very eager and willing to help.
An apparent weakness is that no effort is made to provide additional information to the pieces of art on display. Considering how expansive the display is, it is easy to get lost in all of it. Thus, it would not be surprising if one got tired halfway through the display. Some of the items are not well placed and the place seems stuffy.
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